Discrete Manufacturing: A Deep Dive into Its Key Characteristics and Benefits

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    Most items you can find in stores are produced via the discrete manufacturing method. Handcrafts, jewelry, toys, smartphones, and even cars – all – all of them are made of individual components that manufacturers then assemble to make a ready product. 

    How does discrete manufacturing turn the supplies into ready products though? You’ll learn everything you need to know about it in this article.  

    What is Discrete Manufacturing

    A discrete manufacturing process is a manufacturing method for creating specific, individual products that we can see and count. Those products are typically made of several components or sub-assemblies parts – for example, toys, cars, and airplanes.

    But small elements (like nuts, bolts, or plugs) are also included in the discrete manufacturing category since they are created as separate, countable items. 

    Key traits of discrete manufacturing

    • Unit production – We can count and measures all items made through discrete manufacturing
    • Manufacturers can make products of any size and complexity.
    • They can be broken down into original components – for example, for service repairs or recycling. 
    • Assembled – The finished product (especially large and complex ones) are made out of several components that are then put together in a specific order. 
    • Facility owners can stop production at any moment.

    Discrete manufacturing example

    Let’s take a smartphone as an example. To work properly, each phone needs:

    • A processor unit
    • Memory card
    • Battery
    • Modem
    • Display
    • Various sensors (like a fingerprint scanner or gyroscope), etc.  

    To build a ready smartphone, workers need to assemble all those elements into one, working product. When they need it though, they can also break down the smartphone into separate parts – for example, to repair faulty phones or for recycling.  

    Discrete and process manufacturing – how are they different

    Where discrete manufacturing processes create several individual objects, process manufacturing instead creates large amounts of homogeneous products – for example, beverages. During production, manufacturers use formulas or product recipes to refine and mix the components, and as such, they can’t separate the ready products back into the basic components.

    Here are some examples of process manufacturing items:

    • Soaps
    • Fizzy drinks
    • Juices and smoothies
    • Oil
    • Face cream
    • Cough syrups, etc.

    The difference between both production methods can get a bit blurry at times though. For example, liquid soap is made through process manufacturing. But the plastic bottle into which the workers are pouring the liquid? That’s discrete manufacturing.

    Same thing with custom-order glass items. Manufacturers first need to use process manufacturing to create the glass (as raw material). But giving shape and adding ornaments to the glass is a discrete manufacturing process though.

    What are the key elements of discrete manufacturing

    Now that we explained how both manufacturing methods are different from each other, let’s look at essential parts of discrete manufacturing. 

    Product Structure and Bill of Materials (BOM)

    Since discrete manufacturing items are often quite complex and made out of dozens or hundreds of parts, manufacturers use product structure and bill of materials to manage the manufacturing process.

    The product’s structure describes the relationship between different elements of the final product and shows in what order manufacturers should assemble the item. Having a well-defined product structure allows manufacturers to understand how different parts come together to form the final product but also makes it easier to keep track of the production process.  

    The bill of materials (BOM) meanwhile serves as a comprehensive list of all the required components, raw materials, and assemblies needed to finish the product. BOM also lists the estimated amount of each component needed for production, helping manufacturers to prevent suddenly running out of stock in the middle of the production. 

    Production Line and Assembly Processes

    The second key characteristic of discrete manufacturing is that they rely on production assembly lines to put the product components together. The line is divided into workstations or stations (each dedicated to a specific task or operation) through which the semi-finished products go in a determined order until manufacturers can pack and ship them.

    MMost factories now use automated assembly lines as they can build products faster, more precisely, and at lower costs. In facilities where manufacturers create handcrafted or customized print-on-demand products though, they still handle many tasks manually.

    Quality Control and Inspection

    Quality control is essential in preventing faulty or damaged products from being shipped to customers. That’s why discrete manufacturers use various techniques to maintain stringent quality standards throughout the production process. 

    For example, many manufacturers now use AI-powered quality control systems to 

    aid their quality control team during product inspections. Thanks to those, quality workers can faster notice any product defects or issues, and the risk that they might overlook a defect is also much lower.

    By using those technologies, manufacturers can swiftly remove faulty products from their assembly line, ensuring their customers only get high-quality items. 

    Material Requirements Planning (MRP)

    Many manufacturers rely on automated manufacturing platforms for material planning, like ERP solutions or smaller, MRP systems to make their discrete manufacturing more efficient.

    Those solutions enable manufacturers to estimate precisely which materials and in what quantities they will need for the newest production order, thanks to automatically updated data about inventory level and product demand. Moreover, MRP or ERP software will alert them whenever there’s insufficient material or supply in the inventory or when the stock drops below a specified threshold.

    By doing so, manufacturers can maintain optimum inventory levels and ensure a smooth production flow. 

    Manufacturing execution systems

    The second modern system that discrete manufacturers increasingly use is the manufacturing execution system (MES). MES is a software solution through which manufacturing facility owners can track their production progress and shop floor activity in real time, giving them far more control over the production stages. 

    As the platform also keeps gathering data about each production stage (from material requirements estimation to product completion), manufacturers no longer need to rely on guesswork by when their workers will finish the production or how many orders they can take. 

    This way, manufacturers can enhance their efficiency and minimizes resource waste.

    How can Prodio help you boost your discrete production?

    At Prodio, we actually worked with quite a few discrete manufacturing companies from various industries:

    All of them can confirm that when it comes to:

    • managing their production progress down to each task and machine occupied
    • sharing production plans across the entire shop floor (or several floors)
    • making sure that all workers know about any specific product or customization requirements
    • finding out whether they have enough resources for an additional order
    • or improving communication between them and the workers 

    Prodio worked for them like a charm. Do you want to see the power of Prodio in practice? Then, how about scheduling a demo presentation or trying out the platform on a 14-day free trial? Give it a few minutes for installation and configuration, and you will quickly see just how much faster and smoother your discrete production has become.  


    Discrete manufacturing techniques and technologies evolved from mainly manual production and assembling to powered with automation, cloud platforms, and artificial intelligence. But the basics didn’t change one bit. Any product that can we count as a separate item and can break down into smaller elements is an example of discrete manufacturing.   

    So that way both small objects such as nuts and brackets and large ones such as cars and aircraft belong in the discrete manufacturing category. Virtually, the only thing that makes their production process different is how many resources and assembling steps a worker needs to complete a given product. 

    FAQ: Discrete Manufacturing

    What is discrete manufacturing? 

    Discrete manufacturing is a type of manufacturing process that focuses on creating individual, distinct products or units by assembling various components or parts into a final product. Manufacturers can use discrete production processes to develop hundreds of items, from mass production of small and simple objects like plugs to large and complicated ones like cars or airplanes.

    How does discrete manufacturing differ from process manufacturing?

    Discrete manufacturing focuses on developing unique, individual items that we can easily count and disassemble – like vehicles or phones. Process manufacturing produces goods that are homogenous and can’t be broken down into parts – like food and beverage products.

    Which industries use discrete manufacturing?

    Nearly all! Automotive, electronics, furniture, toys, or medical equipment industry all rely on discrete manufacturing to design and develop their products. But brands that sell cosmetics, food, and drinks, or medicine also use discrete manufacturing, for example to design the packaging and containers for their products.

    How can be an MRP or ERP solution useful for discrete manufacturers? What other tools can they use?

    Automated manufacturing systems like MRP, ERP, or MES have plenty of features through which manufacturers can better manage their inventory and resources, monitor their manufacturing operations, and overall, make their production far more efficient. Plus, those platforms can be tailored to both discrete or process manufacturing facilities’ needs, making them a great help for both process manufacturers and discrete workers as well.